Jason Embry ’98
In an era where it is hard to go a day without hearing the term “fake news,” it can be challenging to work in politics or communications—much less political communications. For Jason Embry ’98, the challenge is part of the reward. Embry, who began his career in journalism before serving as communications director for a high-ranking politician and later co-founding a public relations firm, understands that words have power, and he uses his power to speak truth.
“In today’s political and news environments, it can be difficult to know what is true and what is not. A lot of noise exists that isn’t always based on fact,” says Christy Rome, executive director of the Texas School Coalition, who met Embry when he was a reporter with the Austin American-Statesman. “In Jason’s professional capacity, he works to ensure that the truth is spoken—not just someone’s selective version and interpretation of facts and events.”
Embry began his professional career in journalism while at Southwestern, covering high school soccer and baseball for the Williamson County Sun. After graduating with a double major in communication and political science, he worked briefly for two small newspapers before joining the Statesman. He began covering Texas politics, eventually moving to Washington, D.C., to become the newspaper’s Washington correspondent. When the Statesman closed the Washington bureau in 2008, Embry returned to Austin and became chief political correspondent. He also launched a blog called First Reading, an early morning rundown of the day ahead in Texas politics and government. The blog was named the Best Blog in Texas in 2011 by the Associated Press Managing Editors Association.
First Reading helped Embry find his voice in Texas politics—and people were listening. When Joe Straus, then-speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, offered him a position in his office, Embry accepted. He served as the speaker’s communications director, developing and implementing communications strategies and serving as spokesman and speechwriter.
“There were many times that Jason contributed to public policy through communication,” Straus says. “He made an impact on public education, social and healthcare services, higher education, and criminal justice. He was a considerable influence in policy debate in Texas for years.”
When Straus left office in 2018, Embry took the opportunity to start afresh. He and former Statesman colleague Steve Scheibal launched New West Communications, a full-service strategic communications firm. The firm’s clients have included major players in education, health care, and renewable energy policy, as well as the Austin Chamber of Commerce, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, and Eric Johnson’s successful 2019 campaign for mayor of Dallas.
“Jason loves to work for people he believes in, generally those who help other people at an immediate, often tangible level. And he works very hard and very effectively for them,” says Scheibal. “Every cause—especially something like education that breathes humanity into society—is stronger when Jason is on the team.”
Channing Burke Wiese ’88, who worked with Embry at the speaker’s office, concurs. “For me, he exemplified professionalism, coupled with the ability to call it like he sees it. He’s honest; hardworking; really, truly funny; a great dad and husband; and a devoted son,” Wiese says.
“Jason was a Paideia student before we created Paideia,” says Tim O’Neill, professor emeritus of political science at Southwestern. “He weaved his interests in politics and media into a career that continues to evolve, connecting what is in the textbooks with what is happening in the world. We hope our alums go on to make the world a little better than how they found it. Jason makes us all the better as he leads us to a more informed, nonjudgmental picture of public affairs.”
For his ongoing professional success and embodiment of Southwestern’s core values, the Southwestern University Alumni Association is proud to honor Jason Embry with the Distinguished Professional Award.